Monday, September 19, 2016

Taking Time to Smell the Roses

Retirement life...well, not exactly. I spend the time explaining to people on the road and at home what I've chosen to do and how that connects to the concept of retirement. I have come to one conclusion, I am not the classic retiring type, and really don't know anybody who is.

In the past month, I've traveled from South Carolina to lower Manhattan, from Pennsylvania to the Upper Peninsula (boy is it getting cold there!) to the middle of Ohio and then to Santa Fe. By the end of my current trip, which is from northern Chicago to Wisconsin, I'll have covered countless miles on land and in the air. I'm working hard to get as close to 10K steps in as well each day! I'm busy, yes. But gratified as well.

When I face a new group of teachers at each stopping point, I thank my lucky stars that I have as much experience as I've had over the years, connecting with kids around reading and writing. I talk to them about legacy, something that can get lost when we're dealing with data and testing and the countless emails we get as educators each and every day. I love my new job. It connects the dots to what I've done in the past and the future of America's kids with an enthusiastic group of hard-working teachers across this great country of ours.

But along the way, I've had to stop myself to take the time, catch my breath and smell the rose of the moment that looms in front of me.

A week or so ago, it was a rental car attendant, Gabriel, that checked my ID and my papers at Hertz in Ohio. It was 1:00 in the morning. I'd gotten in way later than I'd expected due to airline delays (never a surprise). Gabriel was enamored by the spelling of my name, and proceeded to share his varied heritage with me once he knew how my name tied to my Irish background. He told me about his hopes and dreams, his bucket list...the Great Wall, castles in Eastern Europe, it went on and on. But I could tell from Gabriel's attire--his frayed shirt and pants, his whiskered face, that perhaps it might be hard for him to meet those hopes and dreams. So, I took that moment to share my moment on the Great Wall, in Tiananmen Square and in the crowded streets of Beijing. It made me realize how lucky I am to have had all the experiences I have had in this lifetime.

Later, I entered my hotel and was greeted by another weathered night warrior. This time it was Terrence or Terry, as he liked to be called, craning like a stork over his computer, not really looking up to greet me, but sustaining that gaze on the blue screen. I thought it odd at first. He was a diminutive character, clothed in a khaki vest and pants, cresting 4'10" at best. "You're one of two people," he said.

The words shocked me...they spilled out with such familiarity. "I guess I'm not the rotten egg," I said.

He straightened. His jet black eyes met mine. "I should say not. You are a vision of the night."

What could I do but laugh. This one was a character, one you don't see every day.

"I've been doing this job for 32 years, and I haven't lost a guest yet," he said. "In fact, 32 years and I haven't missed a day until one day last week. I love my job." He handed me my plastic key, and walked me to the elevator.

Thirty-two years. The exact number of years I'd spent in the classroom. But, he had me in the age category. I'd loved every one of my 32 years too.

"I'm 77 years old and I love my job," he said. I looked at him, and despite the thinning of hair, stiffness of frame and a few wrinkles on that face...I thought to myself, he could be that young boy who probably started as a bell hop or desk man at one of the Hilton operations somewhere in the states. The work was clearly keeping him young...the connection to people, the opportunity to flirt with a female arriving late in the night, and the chance to hold the keys to a 500 room mansion that houses Americans on the go.

The next morning, I spotted him talking to the security guard as I carried my breakfast plate to a table nearby. "You've been awake all night?" I asked.

"You're darn right," he said. "Been doing it for 32 years."

"Well, you look darn good," I replied.

"And you, my dear, are the paragon of sartorial splendor!" He stood straight in his khaki vest and pants and bent at the waist at me. For the first time in my adult life I had no reply to this. I knew what he meant, I thought...but of course, I'd have to go home and look it up to be sure! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Writing through the Mud

Anybody who knows me, knows I'm obsessed with my beautiful four-legged beast. He--Reilly, is named after my mentor, Patricia Reilly Giff. Reilly is, at times, my one and only empty nester's high maintenance kid. 

But Reilly is so much more than that to the writer in me. Yes, I do have to work around his needs. He gets his food in the AM before I get my coffee. He goes out, and then rushes back in for a cookie (his vitamin), settling into my lap for a snuggle after that. But once I push him off my lap? He knows the routine. I write and write, grab a second cup of coffee and write some more. I'm serious about the words I put on the page. 

But lately, I've been looking more closely at him. I, of course, always have a dog in my stories. Life just wouldn't be the same. I study that face of his, so serious at times, with that furrowed brow and those eyes lazored on me. He even has a pout that works to his greatest advantage if he thinks I've stayed with the writing too long. He rests his head in between his paws and stares me down, longing, wishing, pleading, and sometimes whimpering for his walk at the farm. 

I tell myself--a writer has to ignore outside distractions. I take a long sip on my cold coffee, and get back to my work. But then, as always, the mud comes. It does. I run out of steam...or a question comes up that I don't have the answer to yet. This morning, I started I on a path, is there a path at all, or is this quick sand I'm sinking deeper and deeper into? 

Writing is like driving a car without your hands on the wheel. The car has a mind of its own, and the mud is all around. It's been a while since I've written anything outside my middle grade fiction work. I've tried hard not to stare at twitter and Facebook and blogging has been set aside for the somewhat not-so serious, serious stuff. But today, I got to thinking...I was reading a Cynthia Rylant short story, Spaghetti with the kids at school. And I could not help noticing all the little paths in this piece...the things one might think at first sight were headed into the mud. But then she lifts you up and reveals them to be the little jewels along the path to great story. 

Oh, I so wish I could be her!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October Baseball! Fingers Crossed--Let's Go METS!

Let's Go Mets!

Okay, I'm a sucker for a good baseball game. I admit it. If I weren't, there'd be no way I could've lasted this long. I watch my team, your team, and anybody else's team to see a good put-out, a great pitch, or a grand slam. I have been watching baseball since I was literally able to climb up on my dad's knee.

My dad...was a Red Sox fan. Having sailed here from Ireland, who else would he choose? Boston, to his thinking, was an all Irish town. I can only imagine what he'd have thought of the green caps those Sox fans wear on their heads now!

For the better part of 25 years, I've hung my gallery of caps and then my Mets banner too, on the wall in my classroom, just behind the American flag. And I'd tell parents right at Open House that of course I was working on a subtle form of brain washing. Why not? Without a series win since 1986, we could use all the fans we could get. So everyday, my kids would pledge allegiance to the flag of the US and to the banner of the NY Mets.

I bribed them with threats to cheer for my team, and there'd be no homework over and over again. And I did pay-off, but seriously? There were some very lean years!

And then came along all the trickster parents, like the one who fed his son a half-gallon of ice-cream spoon by spoon while practicing his April Fool's exclamation, "Mrs. Lynch--guess what?! I'm a Mets fan now!" Yup, I fell for it. And that kid to this day remains a Yankee fan.

Even my own kids have been duped by my husband and swallowed the Yankee pill.

But today, my niece Caroline who is infamous over at Tech Insider tweeted me about a fellow teacher/Mets fan, Mr. Lazarus Apparently, Mr. L's third graders, Queens natives, are writing letters to convince the Mets to win! Well, that Mr. Lazarus is no dummy! First of all, he's playing to the right market. Up here in Newtown, we're on the Yankee/Red Sox line.

Second of all, for those of you who care, he's firing them up to write to one of his third grade standards, so this is no idle child's play here! So maybe, just maybe, Mr. Lazarus, I've been the jinx all along! Here's hoping the torch can be passed, and now it's up to you!

C'MON, gotta get fired up when you read a letter like that!

And tonight, even though I always keep a bit of cool caution in my hopes pool--I'm feeling pretty optimistic right now. I've come a long way since I got struck by that Grande Orange bug! And honestly, the convincing came from my best friend's dad--Mr. George Ripley! It didn't take much, just a little evening baseball after he got home, a bit of explaining about the game...and then, in '69 the Mets themselves sealed the deal!

Let's hope we're back there once again!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Little Place in the Woods

I never imagined life could be so good...a little cottage, a pine forest, my laptop and a golden puppy resting under my feet. After so many seasons of early wake-ups, cramming close to the screen with that hot cup of coffee to jump-start my day, I am, at long last, somewhat retired from the day to day schedule at school.

My mornings consist not of an alarm, but the persistent poking of a black puppy nose attached to a mass of golden fur. I no longer have to choose an outfit, shorts and a tank top will do. But the coffee?
Oh...that will never change!

Today, I spent three hours revising seven pages in my book. I angsted over a new chapter I know I have to stitch in somehow between two others I've recently revised too. When I reached the point of frustration, I went out and raked and weeded and clipped. And then I went back to the cottage and got it right this time, I think.

To round out my day, I took my pup out for a long walk in the woods, and then walked along a well-traveled path and had a few long conversations with all the regular dog walkers I knew. But then, as the trail weaved its way around the bend...I passed my old school. Do I miss it? You bet. I miss the people, the kids, and of course all the opportunities to challenge myself and the kids, creating each and every day from scratch. opportunities to be a part but not immersed in the field of education abound. I'll be back. But now, in my own way, on my own time, because after all these years of waking up, it's my time to have a little choice! What an incredible reward!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Riding on a Cloud

Riding on a Cloud--

I walk and watch a golden tail,
poised upward,
catching the wind.

He walks,
and I am  tethered
to the other end of the leash.

It is me
who follows
and not leads.

And for once
in my life,
I'm grateful for that.

Now, after years and years
of lines
and order
and organizational structure.

After being the follower
and the leader,
marked by a rigorous
daily schedule, a regimen
and routine--

I can relax.

I am not the schedule
nor am I the schedule

Sure, I hold
a calendar
with dates
and work
still to be done.

But I am, now
the cloud rider
I ebb and flow
in the wind.

I lean in and lend a hand,
pull back
and escape...

to my cottage,
my writing,
my dream, left for years...

Now is my time, my world,
my chance
to sail on a cloud,
to be light
and uplifted
by the wind!

Back to School...well, almost!

 Orientation...One Last Time!
(Note: This blog, written last May, was saved to draft until recently, when I came across it and decided to put it out there for view.)

People wondered
I came...

A last chance
to psyche
up a new crowd--

Anxiously curious,
in, clustered in twos
and threes,

eyeing us--
while we were
eyeing them.

Incoming spectators--
to hear
the just right words,
to set their
minds at ease.

Setting the stage
for next year's brave
it's here that it all begins
to unfold.

But, this year--
my last year,
I will not watch
that story.

It will unfold,
as it always does
and soon a new crop
will fill the halls
come fall.

Anxious parents
will melt away,
and business
will go on,
as usual.

But when that long
yellow ribbon
of roaring buses
stretches as far as the eye
can see--

And I will
travel toward
a new horizon,
longing...all the while
to be that kid,
who became
the teacher
who streamed down
that hall, and
waited with delight
for a whole new
chapter to begin.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When the Teacher Leaves the Classroom

A Teaching Life--well lived, filled with activity and stimulation and chatter, and behaviors...oh, the behaviors! Kids need lots and lots of stimulation, physical movement, interactive time, and time to digest and question what they've learned. I love my profession; I always have. It has never, ever been a job to me.

Teaching and learning are the things I know best, and so I've been gifted with the career of my dreams. I've lavished through 32 seasons of teaching, living my life with the opening and closing of the classroom door. I've sat on the beach and dreamed up units of study in reading and writing in the summertime...envisioned lessons and the activities that kids would love, so that school would not be a burden for them to endure.

And then, in late August and early September, I'd race to the teachers' store, and buy up name tags and bulletin board paper (the school's colors were always too bland) and borders and desktags and books and notebooks (I was finicky about that too.). I bought button collections and dreidels and straws and cotton balls and even a miniature zoo! But most of all...I bought books! Lots and Lots of books--and truth be known (don't tell my husband), I'm still buying them to put the just right book in the hands of my kids.

And throughout the years, I've worked hard to keep the engines moving. Writing has always been my passion. And because of that, I've prided myself in making sure they filled up at least one notebook, and most of the time two...with poetry and stories and expert information that they'd gleaned because they had a passion they chose to write about. I have loved the kids who were reportedly 'blocked'...they're the ones who'd convinced themselves and their parents they couldn't write.
I'd leave them alone, ignore their protests, and let them do the best they could. And as soon as they started to pop...much like the blooms on a tree--I'd move in quickly to lather on the praise, and then shrink back into the shadows again.

At the beginning of this year, I had no plans of retiring. And if you'd asked me, I'd probably give you a look. You see, I always wanted to go out on my own terms, never appearing old or impassioned, I simply wanted to sneak out the side door on the last day with the kids. I knew that day would come. We all know. My decision to leave...comes with kids at the heart of it. I will never be that teacher that everyone groans about. I will never shortchange a class because my energy or enthusiasm can not match theirs. A teacher needs to his/her heart, when that gifted period of teaching begins to show a bit of wear and tear.

So...before I become-

I have decided to take this time in my life to drop my keys on the table, turn my kids over to next year's super star...and take the opportunity to leave. I haven't really thought about this day...about what it will be like not to be surrounded constantly by a circle of kids. But honestly, I've been opening that classroom door since I was five years old, and now, it's time to enjoy a little sun on my face, the flexibility to enjoy family, friends, and to finally devote some time to my own writing...and the plethora of other things that I most enjoy in life!

From mouths of babes...

Ode to Sunshine
by Alex W., one of the many talented students I've been so blessed to know!

An ode to the sunshine
brightening my day
banishing the darkness,
to a place far, far away.
Ode to the sunshine 
yellow among blue,
warming the treetops,
evaporating the dwindling dew.
Ode to sunshine
making colors brighter, 
tanning my arms,
making t-shirts whiter.
Ode to sunshine
brightening my day,
banishing the darkness,
tucking the shadows away.

The shadows--the years, well they have caught up with me, but...I am not feeling my age at all. I have my health and a lifetime of memories. I am so ever grateful for all that I've been given in my Newtown teaching career...most of all for the friendships I've forged. Truth is, when you teach with champions, it's hard not to want to rise to the level of that cream! 

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